Firmin by Sam Savage Phoenix, HK$91 The story behind Firmin is almost as interesting as the novel itself. Its author, Sam Savage, was well into his 60s before he managed to complete his debut novel. Wind on a couple of years and the character Firmin is a cult hero in Spain and Italy, where he is known as Firmino. I should add at this point that Firmin is a mercurial, self-pitying rat. Moreover, this mercurial and self-pitying rodent has good taste in literature. Literally, as it happens. Born into a family of alcoholics, Firmin finds he prefers harder - or rather pulpier - stuff. So, as one makes one's way through Savage's novel, Firmin makes his way through novels by just about everyone else, gnawing at Lolita, Middlemarch, Peyton Place and Moby-Dick to name a few. It is an intriguing premise, one that flirts constantly with whimsy, but knows that going all the way would ruin the meta-fictional fun. So, although Savage's opening lines are about other people's opening lines (Nabokov's, Ford Madox Ford's, Tolstoy's), he doesn't ram the point home excessively. Much of this is down to Firmin himself. 'When I set out that night I was, despite my intelligence, a fairly ordinary male.' Firmin is indeed charmin'.